Michael Oren’s New Book and the Mendacity of the Media
What, should Cross-Currents be the only one out there not to review Michael Oren’s new book before it even hits the stores? Especially after one of our readers, Stefanie Argamon, was nice enough to get Random House to send me not just one, but two review copies?
While the publisher may have been overly generous in my case, the overall strategy worked. The tell-all memoir by Israel’s former ambassador to the United States has been garnering lots of news stories for its take-downs of both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Michael Oren is now a member of Knesset in a centrist party, and can get away with taking jabs at those with whom he disagreed during his tenure in the diplomatic corps. Those whom he targets in Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide are now scrambling for damage control.
The reviewers to date have been most interested in the political conflicts, giving the readers what they want to hear. I spotted a few pages that I thought would interest our readers, and be ignored by other reviewers. This anecdote as well targets something many of us loves to hate:
Only once, when an op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas suggested that the Arabs had accepted the UN’s Partition Plan in 1947 while Israel rejected it, did I feel compelled to phone the page’s editor, Andy Rosenthal.
“When I write for the Times, fact checkers examine every word I write,” I began. “Did anybody check whether Abbas has his facts exactly backward?”
“That’s your opinion,” Rosenthal replied.
“I’m an historian, Andy, and there are opinions and there are facts. That the Arabs rejected partition and the Jews accepted it is an irrefutable fact.”
“In your view.”
“Tell me, on June 6, 1944, did Allied forces land or did they not land on Normandy Beach?”
Rosenthal, the son of a Pulitzer Prize–winning Times reporter and famed executive editor, replied, “Some might say so.”
I urged him to publish a response by President Shimon Peres, who was present at Israel’s creation. Rosenthal said that he already had an article by Knesset member Danny Danon. A rightist who opposed the two-state solution, Danon would only make Israel look more extreme, I knew, which is perhaps what Rosenthal wanted. “Hold off on Danon,” I urged the editor. “I’ll get you the Peres piece in time to go to press tomorrow.”
That day, Sally and I attended our son Yoav’s graduation from Columbia. Seated in the VIP section next to the famous Alma Mater statue, I could have enjoyed the pageantry and relished the view of my old dorm room in John Jay Hall. Instead, I text-messaged Peres. The result was his moving memoir of Israel’s struggle for independence and its insuppressible yearning for peace. Just before deadline, I pressed the SEND button and sighed with relief.
The next day, the Times published Danon’s article.
[One of our readers, quick on her toes, just signaled that others have also doubled-down on this anecdote. Someone writing in The Forward claims that Oren’s account is incorrect. CAMERA responds – and is overwhelmingly convincing, leaving The Forward in much the same position as The New York Times. Again, no surprise. Read all sides here.]
Larry Cohler-Esses astutely debunked most of Oren’s anecdote in a FORWARD piece several days ago.
[YA – No he didn’t. He compounded the mendacity. I’ve added the links to the piece, and readers can now read the Forward piece and subsequent refutations, which don’t even have to be read once you read the Abbas original – also linked]
How surprised is anyone that the “Forverts” took the tack it did.
One wonders how they can possibly justify their heeding to their alleged missin as defined in their 990.
How is LCE’s article “compounding the mendacity”?
Abbas said in his Op-Ed that after partition Jews began to empty out Arab areas [which most certainly happened in specific instances, as Oren the historian must surely acknowledge]. It is quite a stretch indeed to argue that Abbas is claiming that on the basis of that sentence that the Arabs accepted partition.
I’m a historian, too–Oren has no argument here.
[YA – You may be a historian, but I write op-eds for a living. Abbas constructed his paragraph to imply that were it not for the Israeli aggression in ’48, there would have been a Palestinian state in keeping with the November ’47 partition plan. Nothing could be further from the truth – other than a Forward editorial. If you can’t see it, fine. Let the readers look at Abbas’ piece and determine its implications]
It’s worth noting that Larry Cohler-Esses in turn replied to his critics.
Also, of the three things Larry Cohler-Esses said about the story, only the point about what Abbas said has been taken up by CAMERA. What about the part that “Rosenthal directly challenges Oren’s claim to have gotten a piece by Peres to him, citing the Times’ records; and Oren’s account of Rosenthal’s remarks on the partition of Mandatory Palestine and the date of the Allied invasion of Normandy may lack fundamental context”?
The problem is with Michael Oren’s opening. Rather than claim that “Mahmoud Abbas suggested that the Arabs had accepted the UN’s Partition Plan in 1947 while Israel rejected it,” he should have started with something more obviously false, such as the assertion that Arab armies intervened only after Israel expelled Arabs from the part that was to become the “Jewish State,” or that Abbas was “expelled” from his birthplace, when his family left on its own initiative. The original Abbas piece has so much that is outright falsehood. Oren should have started with some of that. Instead, he left himself open to a distorting counterattack.
An unbiased reader would not see a thing. But CAMERA sees a conspiracy behind anything and everything–hardly an objective perspective. Why would one automatically assume that because the Jews struck preemptively that the Arabs supported partition and that the Jews did not? One could make some sort of case, of course, but it is hardly the automatic, logical conclusion.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m no lover of Abbas and I’m sure there’s plenty he has written and said with which I strongly disagree.
But Oren is like Woody Allen in Annie Hall, when reacting to someone who says “D’djou [Did you]” and thinks they’re out to get him by saying “Did JEW”.
His political grandstanding here is not only outrageous but, as been pointed out in many other places, historically inaccurate in many of the other claims he makes [that we haven’t covered in this post].
Are there really people here arguing that the NY times is objective in their Israel coverage!Amazing!Even more amazing is quoting the Foward as a legitimate “machria” in this absurd debate.I think , Rabbi Adlerstien ,what is a given to me and you, ie.that radical left wing media like the times,forward.cnn etc can not be trusted to tell you the weather,is not so evident to all cc readers. Really sad.
What I keep hearing about regarding Michael Oren’s new book, is how he makes it clear that Barak Obama is doing everything he can to compromise Israel’s existence, with special focus on sabotaging any attempts that Israel might have made, to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Predictably, instead of feeling ashamed and taking responsibility for his actions, Barak Obama has been angry at Michael Oren, demanding an apology from him. Obviously telling the truth is not something acceptable to the Obama Administration. The surprising part in all this for me is, that I have had the impression that Michael Oren is quite moderate, not on the Political Right by any stretch of the imagination. I would therefore never have expected him to come out with such a strong statement, but I am glad he did. As President John Adams noted centuries ago, “Facts are stubborn things.”
Oren may not realize it, but by condemning Danon, he is of course already playing the game of the Israel-haters (and the Times) by their own rules, and thus is fated to lose. Does he really think playing “Oh, use Peres! He’s one of the GOOD Jews, unlike those swarthy, traditional right-wingers like Danon!” game is ever going to work?
All the flimsy excuses for Obama that have appeared in this forum are now exploded. Those who put these forward, people who should have known better and maybe did, in an effort to keep Jewish voters from deserting Obama owe us both an apology and an explanation.
If I might add something here (the post that prompted this comment allows no comments), Jewish officials under Obama should be made to regret lying to our faces, and not be held up as positive role models.
“Are there really people here arguing that the NY times is objective in their Israel coverage!Amazing!Even more amazing is quoting the Foward as a legitimate “machria” in this absurd debate.”
Yes, the same people who post their support for Open Orthodoxy here all the time. Telling. I guess its true that a plank of the OO platform is knee-jerk liberalism.
It’s the same old story all over again. There’s a place and need for media scrutiny and groups like CAMERA, but in general, focusing energy on media mendacity misplaces our energy and causes us to lose focus on what really matters. The left-wing bias of the media has been well known by the intelligentsia since the 70s, and by the broader public since the early 90s. The deceptions, shadings, and outright lies are exposed on a daily basis, and yet it continues. Does it really matter? No single media outlet has the power to influence the public anymore; they all play to their target demographics.
The better playbook is to do exactly what our left-wing brothers and sisters have done for years: Continue pushing your agenda, step by step by step, and don’t worry so much about what the other side is saying. [Fox News reaches millions more Americans than the NYT; Wall Street Journal editorials are likewise more widely read. There are lesser-known conservative outlets that also have huge followings.] Why should the right feel beholden to respond to a story in the NYT? I don’t see the left reacting when there’s a story in Drudge, read by millions more people than an issue of the New York Times. They’re right to ignore it. We can learn some things from our ideological opponents.
Not saying there’s no need to keep ’em honest at all, or at least try to. And of course the media still has some degree of reach. But fundamentally, at its core, its no different than the advice we give our children when someone says things we don’t like: Its only a problem to the extent we react to it.
I grew up and devoured the NYT as a reader and payings subscriber untril its editorial, cultural and news coverage sequed from a distinguished newspaper into what can only be described as a high class Village Voice. Try the WSJ, it is a far better paper on all accounts even if its sports pages are worse than that of the NY. The NYT deserces to be criticized as the main intellectual force of a decidedly secular, rabidly pro gay , anti religious ( and not just against Torah observant Jews) and very anti Israel POVs that is evident in its news and editorial coverage. I can’t see wny any Torah observant Jew would want such a Davar Tame in their house. David Brooks, who is the resident conservative, and who fills the shoes of AM Rosenfeld and William Safire does not compel me to have to endure the otherwise hostile anti Israel rantings in the news pages and the op ed screeds of Tom Friedman and Roger Cohen.
For those who are students of historty, the NYT assured us that we could ignore the rise of fascism, attached no particularly Jewish element to the Holocaust and whose reporters in the FSU, China , Cuba and Southeast Asia ignored the fact that Communism was and is a totalitarian movement. Today, the NYT, as a means of remaining afloat in a digital world, has sunk in its cultural and news coverage and POV to the lowest common denominator.
Reb Yid-Out of curiousity-do you think that there are ?more objective” historical studies of the Six Day than Ambassador Oren’s “Six Days in June”? Could you name some and their authors? FWIW, someone who posts here from time to time IMO was quite inaccurate in describing Oren as a Likud flak.
@Reb Yid: I also cannot imagine how someone can read the Abbas piece and not come to the conclusion that the Arabs accepted the UN vote as any good liberals would and that the Jews rejected it and expelled Arabs. Against which the Arabs understandably retaliated.
Here’s the text R’ Adlerstein forgot to post: “In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened.”
So who cares if Oren’s story is true–if the NYT went with Danon over Peres or what that decision was based on (Danon would almost certainly prefer his piece to Peres if you asked him), what’s important is that this extremely misleading couplet was allowed past the Op-Ed board. By the way, if you’re a professional “historian” why hide behind the anonymity?> Let’s see your work.
@Nachum: I didn’t see Danon’s response, but I can’t say I fault Oren–even if I personally am in more agreement with Danon than Peres, for the average NYT reader, it’s probably better to hear from Peres. I get that. We don’t have to deal with the actual question of a Two-State Solution because we aren’t even close to that being a possibility.